Influential Moments in Computing

During my life, many remarkable things have happened. Numerous software technologies and services that we take for granted today were invented. Some of them are not really that old, given how important they are today, some even became part of our language. The way we live today has changed substantially over the last 40 years due to software and technology. While many influential moments look like incremental steps, there were also absolutely disruptive changes. I assume our generation will never forget how Steve Jobs introduced the iphone and turned the mobile phone market upside down. My first interaction with Alexa was another moment I will always remember, as was not long ago my first interaction with generative AI systems.

My focus here is on the notable influential moments that were all very important for me personally. There surely were also big mistakes and disasters, this may be a topic for some other blog post to be written.


  • Niklaus Wirth (ETH Zurich) published the programming language Pascal for imperative structured programming.


  • Dennis Ritchie (Bell Labs) introduced the programming language C.


  • The Apple II computer appeared, designed primarily by Steve Wozniak.


  • Usenet was established at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University.


  • Richard Stallman (MIT) announced the GNU project with the goal to give computer users freedom and control in their use of their computers.


  • Bjarne Stroustrup (Bell Labs) published the initial version of C++.


  • The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was founded to develop technical standard for the Internet protocol suite.


  • Version 1.0 of the Postgres database appeared, designed by Michael Stonebraker (UC Berkeley).


  • Version 1.0 of the functional programming language Haskell was published.


  • Tim Berners-Lee (CERN) published version 0.9 of the HTTP protocol, the technical foundation of the World Wide Web.

  • Linus Torvalds published the initial sources of the Linux operating system on the FTP server of the Helsinki University of Technology.

  • Guido van Rossum (CWI Amsterdam) released the Python programming language.


  • Ian Murdock released the Debian Linux distribution, the first stable version appeared in 1996.

  • Adobe Systems published the first free of charge specification of the Portable Document Format.


  • Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, an online marketplace for books.


  • The Java programming language, designed by James Gosling (Sun Microsystems), appeared.

  • The JavaScript programming language, designed by Brendan Eich (Netscape), was released as part of the Netscape Navigator.

  • The MySQL database system appeared, designed by Michael Widenius und David Axmark.


  • Reed Hastings und Marc Randolph founded Netflix as an online mail-based video rental service.

  • The IEEE 802.11 standard appeared, often called WLAN or WiFi, enabling interoperable wireless communication between computers.


  • Larry Page und Sergey Brin founded Google with the mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

  • The Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) was published.


  • Wikipedia, a collaborative online encyclopedia, was created by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.

  • The VLC media player, originally developed by the École Centrale Paris, appeared as an open source project.


  • The Xen hypervisor appeared as version 1.0.

  • The Skype telecommunications application appeared, designed by Esten Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, and Jaan Tallinn. Skype was bought by Microsoft in 2011.


  • Mark Zuckerberg released Facebook.

  • The Firefox web browser version 1.0 was released.

  • Steve Coast started the OpenStreetMap project.


  • The YouTube video portal appeared. YouTube was bought by Google in 2008.

  • The Spotify audio streaming service appeared and changed the music industry in significant ways.

  • Google Earth appeared, originally known as Earth Viewer developed by Keyhole Corp.

  • Google Maps appeared and it was extended with Google Street View in 2007.

  • Linus Torvalds wrote and published the git version control system.


  • Steve Jobs (Apple) introduced a phone with a touch display, which led to a disruptive change of the mobile phone industry.

  • Dropbox was founded to simplify hosted file sharing.


  • The WhatsApp instant messaging system appeared, designed by Jan Koum und Brian Acton. WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014.


  • Instagram appeared, designed by Kevin Systrom und Mike Krieger. Instagram was bought by Facebook in 2012.


  • The Raspberry PI appears with the goal to give young pupils a cheap computer for experimentation.


  • Tesla introduces the Model S, a battery-powered regular car controlled via an integrated touch display, and started to develop autonomous driving technology.


  • Docker appeared, a technology to deliver software in packages called containers.


  • Amazon introduces Alexa, a virtual assistant using voice interaction.


  • The programming language Rust version 1.0 was released.

  • The RISC-V open standard instruction set architecture was published.


  • OpenAI introduced ChatGPT, a generative AI system synthesizing simple programs surprisingly well.